Faces Of Miami

I love the series Humans of New York where the photographer takes a candid photo and then interviews the person behind the image. Their stores are absolutely fascinating. How many of our own stories with humans have we missed on a daily basis by having our faces stuck in our iPhones.)

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My Humans Of Miami Story

I was alone except for the tired restaurant worker still dressed in his work clothes sitting at the end of the bench with his head in his hands.

I pulled my straw hat down a little further to keep the hot noonday sun burning through the waving palm fronds off my face. I was waiting for the South Beach jitney to take me up to Lincoln Road where I planned to do some last minute Christmas shopping.

Suddenly this tiny little woman who had hurriedly crossed the street stood looking as though she wasn’t too sure where she wanted to sit, but then quickly plopped down beside me.

“Have you been waiting long?” she asked.

“No, but you know the jitney. It sometimes takes awhile for it to get here,” I replied.

She seemed very sweet, casually dressed, beyond middle-aged with her graying dark hair pulled back in a bun and small frizzy curls in front of her ears were let loose to fly a bit in the air. She looked like she could be someone’s sweet grandmother, I thought she probably was and was taking the bus back to Miami.

“Are you visiting?” I asked.

“No. I live here. My parents immigrated from Cuba when I was three years old. They were trying to escape the Castro regime. So I have lived in the states most of my life. Not always in Florida, because I went to New York to go to college. Then after college I moved to an apartment with some friends in the village and started working in the music business. Then after that we moved to Williamsburg and until I retired, I was involved with a large company that did a lot of the organizing for shows on Broadway. When I retired I moved back down here to Florida to be next to my son. Now I’m a chef for one of the private yachts in the marina here. The owner has a gluten sensitivity so it’s a challenge for me to try to create recipes without any ingredients that have gluten. But I’ve become pretty good at being able to do Cuban dishes and other dishes by substituting gluten-free products into those menus.”

We continued our conversation on the bus until she arrived at her stop. We exchanged business cards and she went on her way. She was such a fascinating woman. I was so wrong and have to claim stupidity in my initial narrow first judgement and impression of her. What I would have missed, not speaking with her! She was a well-educated, smart entrepreneurial woman.

The moral of my encounter is two pronged. Never judge a book by it’s cover and never miss a fascinating encounter by connecting with a fellow human, even if it is at the bus stop. What an interesting human story I would have missed had I not kept my iPhone in my purse.

Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All rights reserved.

WOMEN LIVING IN A TOXIC WASTELAND

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Photo by Rena Effendi/Institute

This morning, I read a powerful article from the London Tribune written by Holly Morris in 2012 about a group of women over fifty who took charge of their lives. It left me thinking about my life and the choices that I’ve made and how relatively easy those choices have been. None of them have involved life or death decisions.

In spite of the danger warnings by the government these women from Chernobyl in the Ukraine decided that living in government housing in the cities was depressing and more stressful than going back home to probably the most toxic place on earth to be surrounded by their friends and things that make them happy.

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They came home to the land they love and have banded together ever since in a community that shares food, fellowship, joys and sorrows.

Unlike these brave women, it has taken a lot of living for me to let go of the fear that used to control my life when I was younger.

Fear of failure, fear of change, and fear of making mistakes is quite paralyzing and inhibiting. The quicker we are able to drain the power from that word the better off we will be.

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Please take a minute to click on the following link and read the story of these very courageous women of Chernobyl

I hope you will be inspired, whether or not you agree with their decision. http://bit.ly/1wa9hT7

Copyright Sandra Hart 2014

MY TEN YEAR JOURNEY FOR CLOSURE

I will not mourn although my heart is torn, Oh love forever lost! I will not mourn. Heinrich Heine

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Places Within My Heart: My Journey Along The River Of Life

LUXOR, EGYPT 1984

In spite of the large fans circulating far above our heads on the ceiling, the lobby in our hotel at Luxor was only a few degrees cooler than the desert heat outside. As I looked around I would not have been surprised to see Humphrey Bogart sitting at the bar, with the polished mahogany piano and yellow ivories in the corner of the room twanging out soulful tunes. It was something right out of a movie set.

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I was brought back to reality by the the sound of a melodic English accent calling “Ma’am, please Ma’am.” I turned to see a tall Nubian porter dressed in a galabiyya. His long sinewy body moved gracefully toward us and his face was long, thin and etched with life.

“Bags, Ma’am. How many?”

Before I could reply, his strong arms scooped up our baggage.

“Follow me, nice room, end of hall, just right for you, Ma’am.”

His head turned back our way and he flashed a leathery grin as he darted away with us double-stepping to keep up with his long-legged strides. He led us down the long dark hallway and stopped just right off the corridor to a massive door marked with the brass number ‘8’.

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The unlocked door swung open to reveal a large open space with floor-to-ceiling windows on the far side. Tall green louvers opened on either side letting in the hot morning sun. A double bed and chair on the right, and to the left a doorway that led to a smaller room that was to serve as my son’s space while we were here.

The high ceiling had the familiar fans like those in the lobby and were slowly moving the stale air about the room. I tilted my face upwards to catch the slight swirling of air when my eyes caught something dark on the ceiling. I slid my sunglasses down to the edge of my nose to get a clearer view, “What are…..”

My son craned his neck upward.

“They’re moving up there alright! Wow! What are they?” Emerson said.

“Not to worry Ma’am.They are harmless-they will not bother you,” said the Nubian.

“Just little lizards up there,” he said as he motioned upward toward the ceiling. “They’re not looking to eat you,” he added with a slight chuckle. “Less bugs to eat on you, they have big appetite.”

I wasn’t too sure I believed him but his cool manner was somewhat convincing.

Emerson went to check out his quarters and I walked to the tall window near the bed. The view was rather surreal. Lush grass grew on the ground below and in the center I could see a small pool half filled with dirty water, algae clinging to the edges where the water met the cracked sides of the cement pond. Neglect and the desert heat had obviously taken it’s toll on this tiny oasis in the unkept gardens.

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I imagined that in it’s prime the gardens must have been meticulously manicured with every detail taken care of by a host of gardeners, I envisioned lovely ladies with umbrellas and big hats, fluttering fans and flowing white linens floating around the grounds on the arms of their distinguished English gentleman.

I can’t remember how long I had been standing there, but suddenly, a veil of sadness began to envelop me. My body shivered and an invisible hand lightly whisked across my shoulder. An overwhelming feeling of loneliness reached down into the deepest pocket of my soul. The years of un-cried tears welled, spilling past my lashes, streaming down my cheeks. A river coursing uncontrollably from my eyes.

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Who would’ve thought my life would be this. As a child I had such innocent and positive dreams for what I thought was my true destiny. Who would’ve guessed it wouldn’t be like in the movies I yearned to be in long ago. And in that room in Luxor, Egypt, a place far away from my home, far away from my roots, my life and memories I had repressed for too many painful years came flooding to the surface.

I had my plan and God had His. My plan for my life had been cast aside. It didn’t matter. For the first time in years, I knew I would be okay. I could heal. Finally, I understood and accepted. Finally, I could forgive God. And I could cry.

Author’s Note: The preceding is an excerpt from my memoir/journal I kept during a trip I made to Cairo, Egypt and then down the Nile. This journey had the unexpected result in my healing from the trauma of my husband’s illness and murder years prior.

Available: Print, Kindle, Nook Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Copyright Sandra Hart 2002-2014

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Facebook Friends: I Know You-I Met You Not

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It is no hidden fact that social media has changed the world, has changed our lives and how we connect to people. I have been thinking about this lately, and more so after I recently posted a blog regarding Kosovo and my son’s band tour there in 2000.

I know there are people who have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but I am very selective about whom I bring into my inner social circle. I have no strangers within that group, but I do have a few people that are connected to me by others and I also have a few people who I’ve known, or feel that I have met, because the connection through mail, email and then Facebook has been consistent throughout the years.

One Facebook friend in particular I have electronically known for 14 years, but never have met. His name is Bill Putnam, a photographer and journalist whom I first interacted with when he took pictures of and also wrote a very nice article about the band Tonic’s stop at Camp Bondsteel where he was stationed in 2000.

Since the lead singer/songwriter of that band just happens to be my son, Emerson Hart, the friendship began when Bill offered to send me some of the pictures he had taken of Emerson and the band during their visit during their performance at Bondsteel. Ever since that kind gesture, from time to time, I have been in touch with Bill, following him through the various phases of his life and career, both in and out of service for our country.

Bill has evolved from email-sometimes-friend to Facebook friend and has attended a few Tonic Concerts and generously taken pictures he has shared with this Tonic mother.

Electronically throughout the years I have witnessed him grow as a person, evolve, as my own son has done, and always enjoyed his photo journeys. I have invisibility watched him become a very competent photojournalist who is not just satisfied with standing still in his craft, but always experimenting, learning and challenging himself.

From his postings I gather he likes a good beer now and then with friends, loves certain sport teams, has a good sense of family and most of all, has an eye for what we want to see in the world.

Although I may never ever meet Bill Putnam in person, (the percentage chances of that unfortunately probably are pretty high), I feel I already have had that good fortune through his photography and photo posts. Bill is not afraid to tell it like it is. He crosses the lines for us. He is an interesting and talented guy, indeed, who years ago I “met” because he was a kind enough kid to send me some photos of my son in concert at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.

PS. You can find out more about my Facebook friend Bill Putnam at http://www.billputnam.net

Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Photos Copyright Bill Putnam 2000/2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Good Morning Kosovo 2000

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In June of 2000 my son, Emerson Hart, and his band Tonic traveled to Kosovo and Bosnia to entertain our American troops. It would be first of many more war zone tours the boys would do in the ensuing years, including going in to Iraq, where Emerson almost was blown away by a mortar that landed near Saddam Hussein’s palace where the band was staying.

During the Kosovo tour our men and women soldiers there were tired, home sick, but always the best audience when any American came over to entertain and spend time with them. The boys always had such a warm greeting whenever they landed at the various camps along the way.

Emerson, whose father served in the Army during the Korean War, has always felt it was a privilege to be able to give back to our troops protecting our freedom. So when I recently discovered a diary post from the Tonic website from June 2000 of the days they spent during that Bosnia tour I thought I would share it with my readers and you Tonic fans. The sad reality is that Fourteen years later the Middle East is still at unrest.

Day 1
7 PM….Dinner at the venue

9 PM….Showtime! The show was great…. these men and women are the best audience ever considering the fact that they’re not allowed to leave the base unless on patrol…and it is a dry base-no alcohol at all. They really made us feel welcome.

11 PM….The deputy mayor of the base presented us with a certificate of appreciation. Then we met with a lot of the soldiers, signed autographs and took many pictures.

1 AM…… Sleep at last!!!

Day 2

8 AM…… Why are we up so early?

9 AM….Breakfast!

11:30 AM…… Flight to Skopje, Macedonia. They have to reroute our flight around Serbia since they will not let us fly in their airspace. The flight takes us over Italy and the Adriatic Sea. A one hour flight now takes three hours….the sites were very beautiful.

2:30 PM…… Arrive Skopje, Macedonia… Wait on the French military installation after the Chanuck helicopter to pick us up to take us to Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.

3:30 PM…… Helicopter arrives. We find out that the gear had been delayed coming over the border from Germany , so now our helicopter has to sling load the gear in a huge metal compartment. That compartment is then hanging from the bottom of the helicopter as we fly… 16,000 pounds!!!!

3:35 PM…… Flight briefing and Flak jacket and helmet fitting.

3:45 PM….Departure for Bondsteel. As we crossed the border between Macedonia and Kosovo, the escorts put on their Kevlar vests and lock and load their M-50 machine guns.
Emerson gets to ride shotgun next to the pilot and the flight engineer. Jeff rides next to the star board gunner. Dan rides next to the floor opening where there’s a soldier lying down keeping an eye on the cargo below us. Remy looks like he’s going to fall asleep.

4:30 PM….Arrive at camp Bondsteel.

5 PM…… Showers? I don’t think so..Dinner… Again… the food is really good.

6:30 PM…… Major Dillon presents us with coins from the base on behalf of the Brigadier General Sanchez. They even made a concrete star for us and they had us sign!

9 PM… Showtime once again!!!!

11 PM…… After the show we met more soldiers and signed a bunch of autographs. We had to be done by 11:20 so we could get on the chopper back to Skopje, Macedonia.

1120….Board the chopper… Jeff sits shotgun in the cockpit wearing night vision goggles. Emerson sits next to the gunner on the port side of the chopper and Dan sits next to the gunner on the starboard side. Remi has night vision goggles also, sitting in the rear of the chopper next to the open bay door. In flight we saw a house burning with all of the people standing outside watching it burn. Hard to watch.

12 AM…. Arrive Skopje.

12:30 AM….dinner at the Army base.

1:30 AM….Arrive hotel in downtown Skopje … SLEEP!!!!

3:00 AM… Emerson gets awoken by gunfire outside of the hotel. Needless to say, that was frightening!

Day 3

DAY OFF….Dan and some of the crew go into town to see the sights – – – Emerson, Jeff and Remi sleep most of the day – – that night we all go to town for a dinner that was great. The whole place is amazing… It’s weird to think that it was a communist country only nine years ago.

Day 4

10 AM…… Lobby call

11:30 AM…… On the chopper to camp to Montieth. On the flight we saw more destruction and empty houses than on the other flights… It was pretty surreal… Dan sat shotgun, Emerson rides with the gunner again, Remi hides in the middle and Jeff is in the back by the open bay door.

12:15 PM….arrive at camp Monteith. This camp has many more trees and we see locals working on the base, but it is much smaller than the other three camps we visited.

1 PM…… Lunch… Outdoor barbecue… Wow!!!

3 PM….Sound check

5 PM…… Resorting to sitting on the camp bus so we can be in air-conditioning… It’s 105°!!!!

6:30 PM…… Dinner with the crew in the commander of “Big Windy”, the flight crew that is been flying us all over Kosovo in the helicopters. Definitely some of the nicest people we’ve met!!!

8 PM…… Showtime… A lot of the soldiers that were at this particular show where about to leave for home the next day. They had been there for seven months. They were really rowdy and into the show. They were also REALLY ready to go home!!!!

11 PM…..Signing autographs and taking pictures with the soldiers….Are all such great men and women.

12:15 PM….Chopper back to Camp Able Sentry and Macedonia. Jeff gets to sit on the way back of the helicopter dangling his feet off the back. Emerson’s next to the Gunter again, Dan is in the middle and Remi is in the rear. This was the best flight. The pilot really pushed the helicopter to the max… Flew about 35 feet off the tree line. Like a roller coaster ride. Pretty unbelievable.

1:30 AM snack time at the mess hall at Camp Able Sentry.

3 AM….Hotel… Lights out… Sleep!!!

Day 5

Fly to Amsterdam and begin the rest of the European leg of the tour.

This whole trip was such an amazing experience for us. Everyone was so gracious and kind. Playing for the troops was truly amazing and fulfilling. Besides, when do you ever fly in a chopper into a war zone!!!!

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Skipping Stones

Some people like to window shop. I never was much into just looking into the windows. As far as I’m concerned, except maybe during the holidays with all the animated windows in New York City, the best part is inside the big swinging doors. Each isle, each floor is an exciting adventure. The noise, the aromas and the colors of all the merchandise – that’s part of the pleasure. Why just look at a package unopened? To me window shoppers are missing the best part.

This is true with life as well. Looking through the windows from the outside without experiencing, seeing and tasting all of the richness and excitement it brings. Not just seeing, but looking at the glass half full instead of half empty. Never failures, but challenges instead. Watching the door close behind you and stepping through to something you know will be even better.

It is said in relationships it is common for opposites to attract. My husband and I are living proof of that old adage. I can honestly say we are as different as night and day. I have lived the past 30 years married to a window shopper. His ability to live the fullness and richness of his 88 years has always been elusive to him. He has never been able to open the doors and step through to see the surprises that are inside, beyond those windows.

Until the day they died my husband’s mother and her brother both confessed that they never had a happy day in their lives. They each had the ability to dwell not on happiness, but on one misery after the other.

I have always been fascinated about whether or not we are born with a proclivity toward being happy, or not. In the book The How of Happiness by Sonya Lyubimirsky, the premise of the book is that we all have a setpoint for happiness. To override a low set point, one needs strong self-discipline. My question is, we are all unique individuals, no two of us are alike, so therefore, perhaps one’s happiness is unique unto themselves. Different set-points.

For instance, my husband’s weekend happiness is walking the dogs in the morning from Chelsea through the West Village and home again, stop and buy bagels on the way home and have coffee and bagels at the house.

On the other hand, that same journey that would bring happiness to me would be to walk the dogs from Chelsea to the Village, find a nice little outdoor coffeehouse sit and have coffee and a croissant, enjoy good conversation, watch the people walking by, and then return back to the apartment after exercise and good food and conversation.

My happiness is not peeping through the windows watching other people have a good time, but opening the door and enjoying the life that is inside those doors.

Now just because his happiness and my happiness have two different meanings, does that mean that his is wrong and mine is right, or mine is wrong and his is the right happiness?

My husband skips stones across the water. I jump in with both feet. He stays dry and I am soaking wet.

Together we have cruised the world four times for a total of 456 days. For me it was the joy of soaking in and absorbing the experiences and cultures of the world. For him it was the happiness of 1,368 gourmet meals aboard ship that were prepaid.

Think about it. In reality, if I forced him to always participate in my happiness he would be miserable.

I understand that because until I started to find and own my definition of happiness within the relationship, I felt denied of what I perceived was my deserved happiness.

It’s not all about him and it’s not all about me, it’s about sometimes window shopping and sometimes opening the doors. Sometimes skipping stones and sometimes jumping in with both feet. It’s about one heart with the left ventricle and the right ventricle beating at different times, yet in sync giving life to the whole.

So I guess what I’m saying is I am happy to fill the half empty glass he sees in life.

Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All rights reserved. Myartisansway Press

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Read Between My Lines

It’s an inspiring hang with Sandra Hart, former Romper Room teacher, touching on a number of subjects. Heart-felt and funny and often whimsical Sandra shares her personal, profound thoughts that will make you chuckle or give you thought about your own life. A thoughtful collection of essays that is a perfect read by your bedside or in daily doses. Available in Kindle or printed copy at amazon.com
http://tinyurl.com/n9u7mw
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